Back and forth on medical marijuana

My column on medical marijuana generated email exchanges with a couple of legalization advocates. No, these were not stoners looking for someone to legitimize their habits. They both argued their cases rationally, factually, and with civility, which is what Independent Arkansas is all about.

In that column, I argued that medical marijuana should be studied carefully like other drugs and, if found beneficial, used medically only after a process involving the medical and law enforcement communities.

Wayne Reiss emailed me to say it should be legalized completely. I responded that I would favor decriminalization but not legalization. Decriminalization would mean it still wouldn’t be legally available, but that people would stop getting arrested for minor drug offenses and sheriff’s deputies would stop wasting their time chopping down small groves of marijuana plants in the woods.

I’ll pick it up with Wayne’s response, followed by mine, followed by his.

“Decriminalization, by maintaining a black market, will not end the destruction of prohibition. Mexico is now on the brink of being overthrown by drug cartels. Every disenfranchised terrorist group funds their organization with the subsidy of illegal drugs. In America, the illegal drug market funds gangs and gang warfare. Over 80% of our prison population are people of color and half of them are serving time for drug charges – and there isn’t a prison on earth that is drug free. Meanwhile, our drug addiction rates are comparable to what they were when drug prohibitions began almost a century ago. In comparison, tobacco use, which kills over 400,000 people a year (our most deadly drug by far), was reduced by 50% through taxation and education in a completely legal and regulated market.

“Alcohol prohibition did not end because alcohol is harmless; it ended because it doesn’t work. In fact, the more dangerous a drug (i.e., like cigarettes), the more reason to legalize and regulate, otherwise you abandon control of the market to criminals and subsidize them as well. Ultimately, maintaining a black market through decriminalization is unsustainable.”

“Great points. Hard to argue. I’d love to enlist your help in getting us to reduce the national debt, because you make good, logical arguments based on facts.

“I just have this concern that we’ll have marijuana stores just like we have liquor stores, and if you make something more available and convenient, people will use more of it. I don’t particularly like alcohol, but I’ve had a few beers here and there – before poker night or a big game when some guys went out and got some. (OK, mine was usually a fruity wine cooler, but don’t tell!) But I honestly would have no idea how to get a hold of a marijuana cigarette if I wanted one. Where do you get one? Who do you ask? I’m sure if I wanted one, I could ask around, but I don’t know who to go to. ”

“And you make excellent points as well (even if you drink fruity wine coolers!) Use will undoubtedly rise due to several factors: price will plummet; distributors will advertise; stores will pop up (as you point out); and people will no longer go to jail or be threatened by incarceration.

“As Jeffrey Miron (Harvard University economics professor) points out – mostly, these are good things. People’s civil liberties will be restored, part of our modern day Jim Crow (i.e. prohibition) will be dismantled, police will no longer be seen as the enemy by 42.4% of Americans (that’s how many admit to smoking weed), and most smokers (90%) will enjoy cannabis responsibly. These are some of the many non-monetary societal benefits.

“However, you are correct that we will need to address an inevitable rise in cannabis addiction, despite the fact that it causes far less damage than alcohol or tobacco addiction. Unfortunately, prohibitionist hysteria often prevents rationally discussing a public health policy which must ultimately supplant our current failed penal system model.

“How will this work? Will addiction treatment be regulated and funded by private industry, the state, fed, all three? Run and regulated by whom? Doctors? Bureaucrats? How will we insure treatment programs are funded properly and adequately? If addiction rates rise, will the government wage a campaign to discourage cannabis use as it has done with cigarettes? If so, how can we ensure that the government spreads valuable information, not propaganda and misinformation (as it has for 70+ years)? One thing we can be certain of, the tax on cannabis will pay for all of this.

“These and many other issues/questions are important conversations we need to have in order to build a meaningful regulatory public policy. But – at the risk of sounding like a broken record – the negative consequences of ending prohibition could never be as harmful to society as prohibition itself.

“Cheers and thanks for the engaging conversation.

“PS As to reducing the national debt: I have enough white hair, thanks! :o)”

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